By Sheryl Novak
Which wood is best for furniture? Most people in Riviera Nayarit will tell you to have your dining room and bedroom furniture made only with parota wood. The rationale is that this wood, spoken of in almost legendary terms, is termite-proof. And, that anything else including fibreboard, pine, or any other wood will never hold up in our humid, salty-air environment. But is this true?
The answer to which material should be used to make your furniture depends primarily on your budget and usage. The main options are solid wood and manufactured wood.
Solid wood comes straight from lumber. Trees are either deciduous or coniferous. Deciduous are hardwood trees that grow slowly, including oak, mahogany, teak, and walnut. Coniferous trees are softwood trees. Examples include pine, spruce, and fir. In addition to being more prone to termites and bugs, softwoods also mark very easily.
Manufactured wood comes from wood, albeit not sliced lumber. Thin wood slices or chips are compressed with heat, adhesives, and sometimes synthetic materials to make a composite material. The two types of engineered woods are plywood and fiberboard. Plywood is three to five slices of thinner lumber, adhered together. Fiberboard is the combination of chips with the adhesives pressed into a solid board.
To make furniture that is affordable yet look expensive, some manufacturers offer a hybrid solution. Two examples are veneer and laminate furniture. A veneer is a thin layer of solid wood glued to an engineered wood base. Laminate is an even lower-priced option. It is either a thin piece of wood or a synthetic material.
Parota wood is not necessarily the best choice
Parota wood is indigenous to Central America. In Spanish, the word parota translates to huanacaxtle. Fun fact – La Cruz de Huanacaxtle is supposedly named after a cross that stood in the town, made from this decorative wood. Parota has beautiful wood grain. There is no need to paint it – the beauty lies in its rich grains and golden hues. Furniture made from this indigenous wood will make a beautiful statement in your home.
Parota trees have massive trunks – which means they work well for large furniture pieces (think large dining room tabletops made from huge slabs of the tree). Even though it is considered a hardwood, it is one of the softer in its category. It is lighter in weight than many other kinds of wood and water-resistant. If you have a dining table or dresser that needs to withstand some serious weight, parota might not be the best option.
One thing people do not realize about parota is that it can be quite toxic. Some carpenters will no longer work with this wood because it can cause severe eye and respiratory infection. For those with allergies, use caution.
Although subterranean termites prefer softwoods, they will invade most species of wood. Drywood termites require little moisture in the wood they eat. Although it is less likely that you will have a problem with parota, there is always a risk of termites, albeit slight.
The cost of parota wood has increased significantly over the past ten years. Furniture made from this material was once relatively affordable. Due to supply and demand, today, it is no longer the case. If you want to have custom-made furniture made entirely with parota, the cost will be high. It is like using solid mahogany or oak for every piece of furniture. In addition to the price of the lumber, carpenters can charge a premium for furniture made from parota because there is the misconception that it is the only wood that should be used for furniture in our homes. Most people do not want to invest that much money in a vacation, rental, or retirement home, primarily when other options can provide the look without the high price tag.
Primavera wood is lower cost than parotta
Primavera is a lower cost than parota wood and makes beautiful furniture. The wood can easily have defects. It can sometimes have tiny holes made by insects, so it needs to be scrutinized before chosen to build a piece of furniture. It is yellowish-red in color with streaks of red, brown and orange.
Here is an interesting fact about primavera wood. Loggers who harvest these trees pay keen attention to the phase of the moon. Yes, you read that correctly! The primavera tree follows the phases of the moon, just like the tides. The sap of the primavera tree rises when the moon is on the increase. When the moon is in its dark phases, the sap falls. If the logger cuts the tree when the sap runs high, bugs are attracted. They damage the wood before it can even get to the mill.
Most primavera is painted rather than stained. If you are planning on a painted dining table or bedroom set, it makes economic sense to go with this wood.
Primavera is considered a hardwood, so it is less likely to attract termites. Like all woods, however, there is always a risk. Primavera costs less than parota, so if you are dead set on a solid wood piece of furniture, this might be a better solution.
Make sure pine furniture is treated correctly
Pine is one of the lowest-priced woods. It is prone to termites and marks or dents easily because it is a softwood. If you like the worn look of traditional Mexican furniture, pine is a good choice. Some manufacturers treat their solid pine furniture so that it can be labeled termite and bug resistant. Their warranties, in writing, back up their commitment to providing a product that will withstand this pest. Since pine is fast-growing, abundant, and easy to work with, protected pine furniture may be a great option.
Be cautious if purchasing rustic furniture from roadside bodegas. They may offer lower prices but the chances are greater that the wood is not properly dried and may already have termites. To get that rustic look, some roadside shops have been known to apply used car oil to the wood. This is highly toxic and a health hazard. Buyer beware.
Some manufactured woods can withstand moisture
Plywood and fiberboard are engineered products that have been around since the early 1900s. Over the past hundred years, processes and materials have improved significantly to make these materials the most used in furniture manufacturing. Also, they are used in construction, flooring, home appliances, automobile manufacturing, and cabinetry.
There are three main categories of fiberboard based on their density – low, medium, and high. The density refers to the amount of wood compressed into one panel. The higher the density, the stronger and harder it is. Fiberboards are used in different applications, depending on their properties. Low-density fiberboards also referred to as particle boards, are used frequently in construction for sub-floors. High-density fiberboards are mainly used in laminate flooring. Medium-density fiberboards are used to make furniture.
Fiberboards can withstand stress and moisture depending on its density. Medium (MDF) and high-density (hardboard) have a much higher resistance to moisture and stress than particleboard. Some MDFs and hardboards are treated to be moisture resistant and will not split or crack. Many manufacturers of fiberboards incorporate fungal and insect resistance materials. The resin and glue used to create fiberboards are a deterrent since termites tend to find them quite distasteful.
Fiberboards can be painted and stained in many beautiful colors. Furniture made from this product can look outstanding in your home for a fraction of the price of solid wood furniture.
Veneer and laminates are all about the glue
When it comes to furniture made with a veneer or laminate, the most important thing to look for is the type of glue used. Always purchase veneer and laminate furniture from a manufacturer that has been around for decades and is a known and trusted brand. This solution is a great way to get beautiful looking furniture at a fraction of the hardwood price. Reputable furniture manufacturers use the proper adhesive that ensures the edges of the veneer or laminate will not peel off or curve. Department stores and big box stores tend to purchase their laminate furniture offshore to offer products at lower retail prices. The materials used in these items are low grade, usually coming from China, and are not always safe since their health and safety standards are not the same as in North America.
A warning about wood furniture
Just like any wood, hard or soft, all wood needs to be adequately dried outside or in a kiln. If not, it is going to crack, bow, split or warp. With the increased demand for wood with all the building happening in the Bay of Banderas and throughout Mexico, we are starting to see supply issues. Prices for all types of wood are increasing in price. To satisfy the demand and take advantage of the opportunity, wood suppliers are not always drying wood properly. It looks good when the carpenter purchases it at the lumber yard and when it is delivered to your home. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the table will not crack, bow, split, or warp within a few months. Warranties from carpenters are based on their discretion since they are not in writing, so they cannot be enforced.
Solid wood furniture costs significantly more than furniture constructed with manufactured wood. Furniture that is a hybrid of solid wood and fiberboard offers a beautiful look at a more favorable price. Consider furniture manufactured by a well-known brand that uses a veneer with suitable glue. Weigh the option of hybrid furniture that uses solid wood and manufactured wood. This gives you the best of both worlds – a beautiful looking piece at a much more reasonable price.
Which solution is best?
Parota wood does not have mystical furniture powers. Without question, it is a beautiful wood; but it is not cheap. Be careful that you are not spending more than you need to on your furniture. Today, there are many options to have beautiful furniture in your home on the Bay of Banderas without having to break the bank. Always buy from brand names you know; manufacturers who stand behind their materials and production; retailers you trust who know their products and can help you select the right one for your style, needs, and budget.
New home in the Bay of Banderas? We offer turnkey furniture packages starting at $5000 USD for a two-bedroom, two-bath home. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for info.